The Space To Be My Own Person

August 22, 2019

We want to know how young people become adults. The question we ask is “What’s your coming of age story?” Every Thursday, we’ll bring you the story one young Nigerian’s journey to adulthood and how it shaped them.

I’m one of those few people who can say, not so proudly, that in 2000, the year I was born, my parents didn’t exactly want me. The circumstances of my birth, as I’ve heard a few times, were weird. My parents were entering their forties at the turn of the Millennium. They had ticked all the boxes that most people their age aspired to.

They had three kids – one teenage girl, another in her preteens and a boy who was almost out of primary school. They had finished their house in Ikorodu too, and were planning to move when my mother got pregnant with me. In my father’s opinion, having a child at that age carried too many health risks. But the idea of one last child grew on my mother.

A lot of older couples who can afford it like to have a child, whether it’s theirs or adopted, to serve as a companion as they enter their twilight. I’m one of those kids, although I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the reason. The older I got, however, the more I noticed that I was treated very differently. For one, I was never beaten as a child. Sure, I was often scolded and there was the odd ‘abara’ on my rear end. But they never beat me as punishment. This was weird because my older siblings, and cousins even, feared my father’s belt like a plague. 

My siblings are much older than I am; for context there’s an 8-year gap between my brother and me. So there was bound to be a disconnect. For the longest time, they treated me more like a fragile house pet than their baby sister. Things were even worse when we went out for the owambes that my parents frequently signed up for as senior civil servants. I remember how some of the events, especially birthdays, would have separate halls for kids because 8-year-olds aren’t exactly Sunny Ade’s target audience. I remember the feeling of loneliness that washed over me when I was always pushed to stay with my parents. I would spend the afternoon having my cheeks pulled or poked, or sitting with my father who would busy himself by talking to me in baby-speak. I was capable of speaking normal words. I also really wanted to go play with my mates.

Life as a living porcelain doll was rather uneventful. We had a front-row view of Ikorodu’s expansion into the busy suburb that it is now, and as more roads were tarred and more families moved in, I gradually grew into my weird circumstance. I can’t say I experienced childhood for the sake of it. On one hand, I’ve always been seen as someone’s child. Here’s an example; the primary school I attended was like a neighbourhood project, owned by a retired public servant who just couldn’t sit in his house and rest. Many of the teachers were neighbours as well, so they knew my parents and called me by their name instead of mine. I got the special treatment to match; and even though it got me out of trouble more than once, I grew to hate it. I had very few friends too, mostly because I found early on that many of them just wanted to hang with the cool kid and have the first option on whatever luxuries I was no longer interested in. Not being able to make close friends was one of my life’s biggest paradoxes because, on the other hand, the role I played in my family forced me to be around adults more than I really wanted to.

I mastered social skills at a very early age by shadowing my parents, especially my mum who people describe as a ‘mama adugbo‘ because of her need to raise every child she sees. She was born into a big family and growing up, I saw her navigate numerous human relationships with dexterity and my watchful self on her lap. 

Even though I’m like her in many ways, I can’t say she’s my role model. I don’t have any. To drown out the mundanity of my life, I lived in my head a lot and often imagined myself as a really adventurous person, riding through jungles and deserts. Obviously, I didn’t know anyone who was living that life at the time, so I poured my adulation into TV and video game characters that were, like Dora The Explorer, Zelda, Xena The Warrior Princess and The Black Widow. Just thinking about it now cracks me up.

Life got even more monotonous after my siblings got into university . By the time I turned 12, I was the only child at home. We had a maid, so I rarely did housework. This was what I was born to do: be a companion to my ageing parents. I wanted none of it.

At 17, last year, I got admitted to UNILAG to study Mass Communication. I can’t honestly say I broke a sweat over any part of it, and since I’ve resumed, things have been very comfortable. All my siblings send me money regularly – the first two are employed. The third, the only boy and the person I’m closest too, has always had a knack for making extra money. But none of that comfort can get rid of the listlessness I often feel. I would never say this out loud but some of it comes from seeing classmates who had to earn their place and feeling like I just sat on someone’s lap while everything happened for me. I’ve spoken to my mother about this more than once, and she says I shouldn’t overthink it because all fingers are not equal. That hasn’t helped at all.

I have very bad FOMO too. When I hang out with friends, they talk about a lot of experiences that I can’t relate to or worries that have never crossed my mind. For the first time, I have a friendship that wasn’t borne of the need to just disappear into the crowd. She comes from a family of overachievers, and as much as she downplays it, I find myself feeling like I missed out on the chance to really live life.

The only thing I look forward to about adulthood is being independent. I have no pretences about how difficult that can be. I know that when my oldest sister, who’s now engaged, comes home; it’s usually to ask for help, not to give it. But from what I’ve seen so far, adulting is about standing on your own and becoming your own person. You may have something to fall back on but for the most part, you’re responsible for yourself.

That’s why I need to make the best of my time in school. I hate going home during the holidays. It’s not so much about getting good grades. It’s about finding out that I really like sports, stage plays, and gisting in front of my faculty with friends till midnight. It’s about finding out who I am by being away from family and people who see me as an extension of my parents.

I won’t say I’m equipped. It’s only been a few months and people have already tagged me as disrespectful because I tend to talk to adults like they’re my age mates. Big surprise! Whatever happens, I know I have time on my side. I’ve had enough time to think about the kind of person I want to be, now I have the space to work at it.

Segun Akande

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